What's the Secret to the Success of Google, Ikea and Four Seasons? A Dynamic Culture.
Have you ever wondered why some companies seem to outlast the competition and redefine an industry or market? How did businesses like Ikea, Google and Four Seasons Hotels emerge to become so admired while so many other businesses struggle to make payroll? These were the questions that my co-founder, Nicolas, and I set out to answer before starting our own venture.
To sustain high company growth over the long-term, it is critical to instill vitality -- the capacity of a company to explore new options, renew its strategy and grow sustainably -- into the culture from the start. By ingraining the dynamic aspects of your business into its defined vision, values and innovation framework, your venture is more likely to thrive and provide stronger direction for the team to follow as the business scales.
Here are three characteristics of a vitality-infused venture:
Don't be a static startup; root your organization in a unique purpose to become a dynamic business.
Nearly all dynamic businesses have a founding story that inspired them to develop a unique view of the world -- one that defines how their chosen industry should be different than what it is today. Starting with a purpose and deeply rooted mission that allows your organization to evolve and grow regardless of inevitable challenges along the way is what differentiates a static business from a dynamic business.
Google famously started with a mission "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." This drove the business to expand from its core product of search to maps, video, collaboration and more, all while following the original mission statement. If Google had started without a mission, or with one that restricted the company to being an online search engine, it would have limited its vitality and made it more difficult for the organization to transform as dynamically as it has managed to.
My co-founder and I started our company with the vision of helping businesses better manage their digital services. This was a deeply personal mission for me as I grew up working in a family furniture company that shut down during the Great Recession after 100 years of being in business because we lacked the technology and information required to outlast the competition. While my family took great pride in running Saks Furniture over many generations, I always wondered why we stayed static in our business approach, while other dynamic furniture companies like Ikea and Leon's managed to outpace us and scale globally. The difference lies in the initial vision -- a driving force that continually pushes the company to new limits, and prioritizes the larger mission over short-term goals, such as how many mattresses you sell.
Instill vitality into your defined core values.
The next key characteristic of a dynamic business is having defined values. Values are a set of core principles that help you drive alignment with stakeholders by defining what type of organization you strive to be. Values are not right or wrong, as they simply reflect your philosophies and outlook on the world. When starting our business, we defined three core values: positive mental attitude, humility and intensity. We recognize that other companies have been very successful by following values quite opposite to ours -- however, these pillars serve as a unifying bond between our people to align everyone on our mission.
My business hero growing up was Isadore "Issy" Sharp, founder of Four Seasons Hotels. Most people would think that Sharp's focus in the early days was building the most luxurious hotel chain in the world. I had the fortunate opportunity to spend time with Sharp earlier this year, and he told me that in the beginning, it was never about the luxurious properties -- it was about the people. He believed that to satisfy your customers, you need to create value; and to create value, you need to deliver exceptional service. This seemingly simple concept is what drove a superior experience, and his secret to success was treating his employees as the most important asset. By investing in their training and giving them a sense of autonomy and ownership, they would provide unparalleled service that would go on to define luxury in the hospitality industry. By shaping its business model based on the value of putting people first, Four Seasons triumphed as a dynamic business while other hotels and property owners remained static.
Encourage innovation with established frameworks.
Most startups focus on building one product in one defined market, but fail to expand beyond the initial offering. Take my family furniture store, for example: Why did we stay in one location while Ikea scaled around the globe? Dynamic businesses look beyond the first store or product from the very beginning.
One way to encourage continuous innovation is to institute frameworks early on in the company's life cycle that encourage teams to take new products to market. Google offers a "20 percent time" program that allows employees to work on any additional project of choice in this amount of time. Similarly, Amazon has a "Press Release" model where anyone can draft a memo in the form of a press release to pitch a new idea. By providing employees with opportunities to pursue their own unique ideas that otherwise might not have come to fruition, your business will continue to evolve in a dynamic manner.
Maintain the "vitality" momentum.
In his 2016 annual investor letter, Jeff Bezos highlighted the following challenge: "How do you keep the vitality of Day One, even inside a large organization?" To be a dynamic business, you need to instill the characteristics of a dynamic business from Day One, and they must be constantly reinforced as your company grows to sustain innovation over the long-term. If you're only at the beginning of your business journey, having a clearly established vision, values and innovation framework will allow your organization to stay vital and thrive.